Every so often the SEO community will erupt into an uproar at the publication of a new ranking factors study.
The usual cry – “correlation is not the same as causation!”
You may be familiar with the terms.
Correlation is the “mutual relation of two or more things” and causation is “the action of causing or producing.”
Essentially, is something genuinely the cause of a result, or does it just happen to change in line with the result?
To put it clearly, here is an unusual example of correlation.
According to the data gathered by Tylervigen.com from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation, there is a direct correlation between the number of Civil Engineering doctorates awarded in the U.S. and the per-person consumption of mozzarella cheese.
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Want more civil engineers to graduate in the U.S.?
You’d better start eating more cheese.
We can all quickly identify that it’s likely being a coincidence rather than a causal link.
This is a good example of correlation not being the same as causation.
Why Are Correlation & Causation a Concern in SEO?
A lot of SEO activity is based on trial and error, experience, and statements from search engine representatives.
Due to this, there are often assertions made like “SEO activity X has a positive effect on your webpage rankings.”
For example: “links from authoritative websites will improve your website’s SERP rankings.”
Sometimes, these will be accurate – the stated activity will be what has caused the ranking increase.
Other times, it is purely coincidental.
The issue with this is that there can be substantial time and money invested in carrying out SEO activities that will never pay off.
For instance, what if there was an SEO study that suggested the number of JPEGs